Plans, detours discussed for intersection at routes 51, 88

| Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Two years of changing traffic patterns, detours and construction at the Route 51 and Route 88 intersection will be worthwhile if the $19 million project relieves traffic congestion at the South Hills trouble spot, residents said.

“I've been driving through here since I was 16, and it's high time that something's been done,” said Joe Dengler, 63, of the North Side.

“It's a big bottleneck. The traffic keeps getting heavier and heavier ... They say, ‘A temporary inconvenience for a permanent improvement.' Well, we want to see a really big improvement with this.”

A project long in the works to overhaul the intersection in Overbrook and Whitehall now is moving forward. The benefits will be longstanding, with improved safety and traffic conditions, PennDOT District 11 officials said Monday, as they introduced more than 100 residents to the project contractor, Joseph B. Fay, and discussed final plans and detours for the next two years.

“It won't be smooth sailing, but we feel it will be much improved,” PennDOT district executive Dan Cessna said. Each day, 42,000 vehicles use Route 51.

The project began earlier this year, when utilities relocated pipes, lines and wires from near the site and demolition work began for the creation of a “jug handle” behind the Rite Aid off Route 51 northbound. The project has three phases, with completion planned for November 2015.

The project will include replacing five bridges and building a new bridge at the intersection, said PennDOT assistant construction engineer Heath Butler. Route 51 will be widened between 2 and 5 feet on the southern side near the Route 88 intersection, which will allow for wider lanes to be constructed, Butler said.

Stewart Avenue also will be widened, and a turning lane will be added from Provost Road in Whitehall onto Route 51.

A “jug handle” is being constructed that will take northbound traffic off of Route 51 and behind the Rite Aid to go straight onto Route 88, which would eliminate left turns from Route 51 to Route 88, Butler said. Route 88 at Glenbury Street also will be reconstructed in multiple phases, and Route 51 will be resurfaced during the project, he said.

With these changes, traffic congestion could lessen at the intersection, PennDOT officials said. The changes also could reduce crashes, Cessna said.

“We think the flow will perform at least as well as it is now,” PennDOT assistant district executive Jim Foringer said of Route 51 traffic.

Construction on Route 51 will be done at night, Butler said. Route 51 will remain open in two lanes in both directions during peak hours, Foringer said.

“Route 51 is really never actually closed or shut off to traffic during this,” said Roseanne Rodgers, project manager with SAI Consulting Engineers.

The project will be completed in three phases. The first, which goes until May, will include demolition of structures to create the jug handle, bridge construction work and widening of Stewart Avenue.

Ivyglen Street will be closed in the next few weeks, continuing through May, project engineer Steve Chiado said. The detour will follow Underwood Street.

A detour for Stewart Avenue will be four miles long, and take traffic from Route 51 to Brownsville Road to Baptist Road to Weyman Road and back to Stewart, Chiado said.

Later in 2014, traffic on Route 51 will be shifted, and all northbound traffic will use the newly constructed jug handle, Chiado said.

During phase three, Route 88 northbound will be closed to traffic, and an 11-mile detour taking traffic to Connor Road, then Washington Road and West Liberty Avenue will be used.

A hotline has been set up for residents with questions to call during the project: 412-533-4606.

“These projects can be intrusive. We're going to be in your lives for the next couple of years,” Cessna said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or

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